The Raspberry Pi is a great, versatile piece of kit, capable of projects as diverse as running a media center to use as a broadcast radio. But it has one glaring flaw: the inability to boot from USB.
Well, until now, that is.
If you’re using a Raspberry Pi 3, it is now possible to forego booting from microSD and instead boot the computer from a USB device. This might be a flash stick, an SSD with a USB adaptor, or even a full sized USB hard disk drive. This is a significant development, so let’s take a look at how you can setup your Raspberry Pi 3 to boot from USB.
Get Started: Install Raspbian and Add New Files
It’s best to start this project with a fresh copy of Raspbian, so download the latest version (we’re using Raspbian Jessie) and install it in the usual way. As soon as this is done, safely remove the card from your PC, insert it into the powered-down Raspberry Pi and boot, remote connecting over SSH as soon as it loads up.
Sign in (unless you’ve changed your default credentials) then run the following commands, which will replace the default
bootcode.bin files with freshly downloaded alternatives:
sudo apt-get update sudo BRANCH=next rpi-update
This update delivers the two files into the
/boot directory. With the files downloaded, proceed to enable the USB boot mode with:
echo program_usb_boot_mode=1 | sudo tee -a /boot/config.txt
This command adds the
program_usb_boot_mode=1 instruction to the end of the
You’ll need to reboot the Pi once this is done.
Next step is to check that the OTP — one-time programmable memory — has been changed. Check this with:
vcgencmd otp_dump | grep 17:
If the result is representative of the address
0x3020000a (such as
17:3020000a) then all is good so far. At this stage, should you wish to remove the
program_usb_boot_mode=1 line from the
config.txt file, you can. The Pi is now USB boot-enabled, and you might wish to use the same microSD card in another Raspberry Pi 3, with the same image, so removing the line is a good idea.
This is easily done by editing
config.txt in nano:
sudo nano /boot/config.txt
Delete or comment out the corresponding line (with a preceeding #).
Prepare Your USB Boot Device
Next, connect a formatted (or ready-to-be-deleted) USB stick into a spare port on your Raspberry Pi 3. With this inserted, we’ll proceed to copy the OS across.
Begin by identifying your USB stick, with the
In this example, the SD card is
mmcblk0 while the USB stick is
sda (it’s formatted partition is
sda1). If you have other USB storage devices connected the USB stick might be sdb, sdc, etc. With the name of your USB stick established, unmount the disk and use the parted tool to create a 100 MB partition (FAT32) and a Linux partition:
sudo umount /dev/sda sudo parted /dev/sda
At the (parted) prompt, enter:
You might be informed that the disk is otherwise engaged. If so, select Ignore, then note the warning instructing you that the data on the disk will be destroyed. As explained earlier, this should be a disk that you’re happy to delete or format, so agree to this.
If you run into any problems here, you might need to switch to the desktop (either manually, or over VNC) and confirm the disk is unmounted, before entering the mktable msdos command in a windowed command line.
Proceed in parted with the following:
mkpart primary fat32 0% 100M mkpart primary ext4 100M 100% print
This will output some information concerning disk and the new partitions. Proceed to exit parted with Ctrl + C, before creating the boot filesystem, and the root filesystem:
sudo mkfs.vfat -n BOOT -F 32 /dev/sda1 sudo mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda2
You then need to mount the target filesystems, before copying your current Raspbian OS to the USB device.
sudo mkdir /mnt/target sudo mount /dev/sda2 /mnt/target/ sudo mkdir /mnt/target/boot sudo mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/target/boot/ sudo apt-get update; sudo apt-get install rsync sudo rsync -ax --progress / /boot /mnt/target
That last one is the final command that copies everything over, and so will take a while to complete. Time to make a coffee!
Next, you need to refresh the SSH host keys, to maintain the connection with the reconfigured Raspberry Pi after an imminent reboot:
cd /mnt/target sudo mount --bind /dev dev sudo mount --bind /sys sys sudo mount --bind /proc proc sudo chroot /mnt/target rm /etc/ssh/ssh_host* dpkg-reconfigure openssh-server exit sudo umount dev sudo umount sys sudo umount proc
Note that after sudo chroot (the fifth command above) you’re switching to root, so the user will change from pi@raspberrypi to root@raspberrypi until you enter exit on line 8.
Prepare for Rebooting From USB!
Just a few more things to sort out before your Raspberry Pi is ready to boot from USB. We need to edit
cmdline.txt again from the command line with:
sudo sed -i "s,root=/dev/mmcblk0p2,root=/dev/sda2," /mnt/target/boot/cmdline.txt
Similarly, the following change needs to be made to fstab:
sudo sed -i "s,/dev/mmcblk0p,/dev/sda," /mnt/target/etc/fstab
You’re then ready to unmount the filesystems before shutting down the Pi:
cd ~ sudo umount /mnt/target/boot sudo umount /mnt/target sudo poweroff
Note that this uses the new
poweroff command as an alternative to
When the Pi has shutdown, disconnect the power supply before removing the SD card. Next, reconnect the power supply — your Raspberry Pi should now be booting from the USB device! And for more help with your Pi, check out how to set up Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on Raspberry Pi 3.
Ready to give Raspberry Pi 4 a try? Check out its features and specs.